Armed civilians block roads in western Mexico to press for cartel crackdown

Hundreds of armed civilians blocked highways over the weekend in nine of the 113 cities in the western Mexican state of Michoacan to pressure the federal government to arrest Caballeros Templarios drug cartel members.

The civilians, who were armed with assault rifles and pistols, used buses, trucks and pick-up trucks, to block the roads on Sunday.

The protesters unfurled banners that called for the arrest of Servando Gomez Martinez, the cartel's leader.

The demonstrators also called for the arrest of Sergio Huerta Tena, a close associate of Gomez Martinez, and Ignacio Andrade Renteria, a former associate of the drug lord.

The roadblocks in the cities of Apatzingan, Acuitzio, Paracho, Los Reyes, Zamora, Caracuaro, Uruapan, Ziracuaretiro and Huetamo started at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday and ended eight hours later, the office of the federal commissioner for security and development in Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo, said.

The commission headed by Castillo was created by President Enrique Peña Nieto in January to deal with a wave of drug-related violence in Michoacan.

Members of the Viagras, a group of gunmen who formerly served as the Caballeros Templarios cartel's armed wing, were spotted manning the roadblocks, Castillo's office said.

The Viagras gang has been trying to take over the illegal drug trade in Michoacan.

Vigilante groups have accused the Viagras gang of entering the struggle against the Caballeros Templarios and joining the Rural Force, a law enforcement agency created by the federal government to legalize the community self-defense groups formed in the state to fight the cartel.

The first community self-defense groups were formed in Michoacan in February 2013 to fight the Caballeros Templarios.

The criminal organization, which was founded in December 2010 by former members of the Familia Michoacana cartel, deals in both synthetic drugs and natural drugs.

The federal government deployed soldiers and police in Michoacan on Jan. 13 in an effort to end the wave of drug-related violence in the state. EFE